by David Levy
updated July 22, 2007
Copyright © 1998-2007 by David Levy. All rights reserved.
Trictrac is a game for two players. The players move checkers on a board, scoring points for various plays and positions. The winner of the match (partie) is the first to win twelve games (trous) of twelve points each. Trictrac is not fundamentally a racing game.
Trictrac is played on a board which generally resembles a backgammon board.
It consists of twenty four points (fleches), twelve on a side, with a bar separating each side into two tables (jans) of six points.
Each player has fifteen checkers (dames) two dice (des) and a dice cup (cornet).
Points are scored with three disks (jetons de bredouille) and games are scored by placing a peg (fiche) in one of twelve holes (trous) opposite the points alongside the board.
It seems that each trictrac book has developed its own notation for naming or numbering the points on the board and for recording positions. I will adopt a notation that should be familiar to backgammon players rather than trying to stay true to some of the older trictrac literature.
The figure on the left represents the trictrac board. I have not found a way to illustrate the trous for recording games. On a real trictrac board, there would be small holes along each side of the board where the numerals one through twelve appear in the diagram.
I will refer to the points as B1 through B12 (B for Black) on the top half of the board and W1 through W12 on the bottom. When I refer to a point by number alone, it should be taken to mean the point from the perspective of each player. For example the one point means B1 from Black's perspective and W1 from White's.
The board is divided into four tables or jans which have two names, one from each player's perspective.
Table Black White B1 to B6 petit jan jan de retour B7 to B12 grand jan W7 to W12 grand jan W1 to W6 jan de retour petit jan
Some of the points have colorful French names:
Each player begins with fifteen checkers on the talon (stock), B1 for Black and W1 for White.
A player begins the turn by throwing two dice and announcing the pips, high die first. The player then examines the position and determines whether the throw permits him to score any points. The player announces the score and move the markers to record the score. The player then moves checkers corresponding to the numbers thrown.
The opponent then announces any points earned by the player's throw and rolls the dice.
Black moves clockwise from B1 to B12, then W12 to W1. White moves counter- clockwise from W1 to W12, then B12 to B1.
As long as the player keeps his checkers on his half of the table, he is said to play an ordinary game (jeu ordinaire). The player is said to head for home (passer au retour) when he moves the first checker on the opponent's half of the board. As we will see, there are rules which limit when a player may passer au retour.
Checker movement is similar to backgammon. A player moves checkers a number of points matching the numbers thrown on the dice.
For example, if Black opens the game with a 3-2, Black may move one checker from the one point to the four point and another to the three point. In clearing two checkers off the talon, Black is said to play tout à bas.
Black's alternative play is to move one checker to the six point, known as playing tout d'une. Black is said to pass over (faire étape or reposer) the intermediate point (here, either the three or four point).
Doubles are treated as two identical numbers, not four, as in backgammon.
If possible a player must move checkers corresponding to the number on each die. If a player can move either but not both of the two numbers, the player must move the higher number.
Like backgammon, once a player has all checkers in the jan de retour, the player begins to bear checkers off the board.
Checker movement is limited by a number of rules.
A checker may not move to or pass over a point occupied by one or more opponent's checkers. This differs from backgammon where you can hit a single checker (demi-case or blot) and send it to the bar.
You may not move any checkers to the opponent's coin de repos, although you may pass over it.
You may not move a single checker to your own coin de repos, if it is empty. The coin de repos must be occupied with two checkers on a single throw.
With an opening 6-5, black must clear two checkers from the talon. Black cannot play a single checker to the twelve point - the coin de repos must be occupied with two checkers.
If you throw dice which allow you to land two checkers on the opponent's empty coin de repos, you may use them to make your own coin de repos. You are said to capture your own coin par puissance.
Six-six brings the two checkers on black's seven point to white's empty coin de repos. Black may use this roll to move the two checkers to his coin de repos, making it par puissance.
Finally, if you can make your coin de repos both directly and par puissance, and you choose to make it, you must do so directly.
It would appear that five-five would let black make the coin de repos with either the two checkers on the seven point or the eight point. The rule states that if black is to take the coin, it must be directly (from the seven point) rather than par puissance.
If a player has exactly two checkers on his own coin de repos, the player cannot move one without moving the other.
If a player has at least two checkers on each of the six points in the petit jan (points one through six), the grand jan (seven through twelve) or the jan de retour (the opponent's one through six points), the player is said to fill a table (faire un plein or remplir). A player cannot fill the fourth table (the opponent's grand jan) because he cannot occupy the opponent's coin de repos.
A player can fill a table in more than one way.
A roll of 2-1 fills the table in only one way, from the nine point. The one would be played from the four, five or seven points.
A roll of 5-2 fills the table in two ways, playing the two from the nine point, or playing five, then two from the four point.
A roll of 4-2 fills the table in three ways: two from the nine point, four from the seven point or four then two from the five point.
Doubles can allow you to fill in at most two ways. A roll of 1-1 fills from the nine point. A roll of 2-2 fills from either the seven or nine points.
As we will see in the section on scoring, a player earns points for filling a table or for preserving a table already filled. Filling a table in two or three ways scores double or triple.
There are two rules governing checker movement that relating to filling tables.
A checker may not stop on a point in the opponent's grand or petit jan if the opponent is still able to fill it.
A checker may pass over an empty point in the opponent's grand jan to an empty point in the petit jan even if the opponent is still able to fill the grand jan.
When a player gets all checkers to the jan de retour, the player may begin removing checkers from the board.
The player can remove a checker from the six point with a six, and so on.
Unlike backgammon, a player cannot move a checker with a number if the number can be played inside the jan de retour. So you cannot remove a checker from the five point with a five if there is a checker on the six point which can be played to the one point.
Like backgammon, you can remove a checker from a lower point with a high number if there are no checkers on the point corresponding to the higher number. For example with no checkers on the six point and checkers on the five point, a player can remove a checker from the five point by rolling a six.
In trictrac, there are a number of jans, plays which are worth points to one of the players. It is said that the term jan refers to the god Janus who had two faces, since many of the scoring plays in trictrac have two faces.
There has been no change in scoring plays since the early 18th century. Most sources say that there are eight jans, but list other scoring plays which they do not call jans. Other sources list eleven jans. Although this is a bit confusing, the good news is that the sources are completely consistent as to how to score the game.
The first five of the jans can occur only at the beginning of a game, and even then quite infrequently.
The jan de trois coups is scored on the third throw of a game. If a player can move to leave one checker each on the two through seven points, it is worth four points. The player does not have to play the third throw to leave all the blots in order to claim the score.
The jan de deux tables requires:
The player scores four points for the jan de deux tables if the roll was not doubles, or six points for doubles. The laws of the coin de repos prevent you from moving to the coins. The player clears two checkers from his talon.
Black scores six for the jan de deux tables and then moves two checkers from the talon to the seven point.
The contre jan de deux tables requires:
The opponent scores four points for the contre jan de deux tables if the roll was not doubles, or six points for doubles.
A player scores for the jan de mézéas when:
An opponent scores for the contre jan de mézéas when:
This is quite rare.
For filling the petit jan with non-doubles, a player scores:
For filling the petit jan with doubles, a player scores:
For each turn in which a player preserves the petit jan, the player scores:
Scoring is identical to the petit jan.
Scoring is identical to the petit jan.
A player scores for hitting an opponent's single checker, that is, rolling a number which would allow the player to move a checker to a point occupied by a single opposing checker. As we have seen, however, the rules prohibit actually moving to the point.
Black rolls five-two which permits him to hit the checker on W6 from the coin de repos. Black scores four points (see the table below) and makes the case de diable (B8) with checkers from the three and six point.
Note that you can hit a blot from the coin de repos even though there are only two checkers on the coin. This is true despite the rule that the last two checkers on the coin must leave together. Here, the checkers are not moving, so the law does not apply (but see battre le coin for the opposite result).
As with filling a table, it is possible to hit a checker up to three ways with non-doubles and up to two ways with doubles. It is also possible to hit more than one checker with the same roll of the dice.
For hitting a checker in either petit jan with non-doubles, a player scores:
For hitting a checker in either petit jan with doubles, a player scores:
For hitting a checker in either grand jan with non-doubles, a player scores:
For hitting a checker in either grand jan with doubles, a player scores:
When you hit a checker with the sum of two dice (tout d'une), one of the intermediate points must be free, or you cannot score for hitting a checker. The play is said to be a false hit, and in fact points go to the opponent.
Black rolls a five-two, which appears to let him hit the checker on W6 from the coin de repos. However the five is blocked by the checkers on W8 and the two is blocked by the checkers on W11. Black has made a false hit and White scores four points.
The false hit scores the same number of points as the actual hit would have scored.
A player scores for hitting the opponent's coin de repos if:
Black has made his coin de repos; White has not. Black scores for hitting the coin de repos since six-six brings two checkers from B7 to W12. Black then moves two checkers from the talon to B7.
To hit the coin from one's own coin requires extra checkers on the coin. For example six-one would hit only if there were three (or more) checkers on B12. One-one would hit only if there were four (or more) checkers on B12. This is a consequence of the rule that the last two checkers on the coin must leave together. This differs from hitting a checker, where the last two checkers on the coin de repos can hit.
It is also important to contrast battre le coin with the jan de mézéas. The jan de mézéas occurs only at the beginning of the game when there are only two checkers cleared from the talon.
Hitting the coin is worth four points by non-doubles and six points by doubles.
If a player cannot move either or both of the numbers thrown, the opponent gets two points for each number not played.
The first player to clear all of his checkers off the board wins four points by non-doubles or six points by doubles.
Now that you have seen all of the scoring plays, what is the greatest number of points that can be scored on a single roll? Can you produce the position and roll?
If a player fails to claim all of the points to which he is entitled, the opponent scores the points, sending the player to school (école). This is similar to muggins in cribbage.
The rules around écoles are fairly complicated, as they must take into account when to claim the penalty, false claims, etc. The penalties also apply for certain illegal checker movements (failing to fill a board).
As of this time, I have not studied these in detail.
The jan de rencontre occurs at the beginning of the game where the second player's roll is the same as the first. This scores four for non-doubles and six for doubles. This was abandoned as scoring play sometime in the seventeenth century.
The pile de misere occurs when a player is unable to bring his checkers onto the opponent's half of the table and ends up with all fifteen checkers on his own coin. This scored four points for non-doubles and six for doubles. Preserving the pile de misere scored four points for non-doubles and six for doubles.
Some late seventeenth century books say that this had already been abandoned, yet Soumille (1756) states that some play it and some do not.
Margot la fendue punished a player for a near miss. When a player rolls a number which would land on an empty point between two blots, the opponent scores two points for non-doubles and four points for doubles. This was obsolete by the late seventeenth century.
White's six-five allows a checker to hit from W11 to B3, splitting the two blots on B2 and B4. White loses two points.
A trictrac match consists of twelve games of twelve points.
If a player wins a game by scoring twelve points in a row, he wins a double game, known as a partie bredouille, or a lurch in many other games. Bredouille means empty-handed. A single game is known as a partie simple.
Either the first or second to score can win a partie bredouille. If Black scores first, he wins a partie bredouille if he scores the first twelve points. If Black scores first, White can win a partie bredouille by scoring the next twelve points. If Black scores, then White scores, then Black scores again, neither player can win a double game. Black is said to remove the possibility of a double game (débredouiller).
Three markers known as the jetons de bredouille are used to score points and to keep track of whether a partie bredouille is possible.
The game begins with the jetons on the playing surface against the side of the board nearest the two talons, halfway between the players. The first to score takes a single jeton and moves it along the middle of the board, slightly closer to his side than the opponent's to mark points. The jeton is moved:
Either player can score a partie bredouille.
The second player to score moves the remaining two jetons to mark points. Now only the second player can win a partie bredouille.
If the first player scores again, the first player continues to move the one checker along, but removes the second of the two jetons marking the opponent's score (débredouille). This indicates that neither player can win a partie bredouille.
A player winning a game marks the score by placing a marker (fiche) in a hole (trou) alongside the points on his side of the board. The hole by the talon indicates one point and the hole by the coin de repos indicates twelve points.
A player marks one trou for a partie simple and two for a partie bredouille.
It is possible to win more than two trous on a single roll. For example, with a game score of six points to none in favor of Black, Black scores twenty points for a total of twenty six. This is worth two parties bredouilles (the first twenty four points make twelve in a row, twice) with two points left over. Black scores four trous and can leave a single jeton marking the remaining two points (but see ending the game, below).
For another example, consider a score of six-six, with no partie bredouille possible. Black scores twenty points. Black wins a partie simple with the first six points, a partie bredouille with the next twelve and has two points left. Black scores three trous and can leave a single jeton marking the remaining two points (but see ending the game, below).
A player who wins one or more trous on his own throw of the dice has the choice of continuing the game (tenir) or starting a fresh game (s'en aller). If a player wins a trou on the opponent's throw, the game continues. In either case, the partie winning the trou rolls again to begin the next game.
If a player chooses to continue, the opponent loses any points earned toward the next trou. The winner, however, keeps any points in excess of those required to win the trou. The opponent, before his turn, can still mark any points earned by the winner's throw (for example, for battre à faux).
If a player chooses to restart, both players return the checkers and the jetons de bredouille to the starting position.
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